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November 8, 2001 Kids hate phys ed? Make it fun, says Lois Baron



Lois Baron
Professor Lois Baron, sports psychology educator at Concordia

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Anna Bratulic

A pudgy child stares up with dread at the rope he has to climb in front of his classmates. Chances are, this kid will grow up to view physical activity as a source of failure.

Getting children — by nature physically active — to become active adults can be thwarted by bad personal experiences in sports and physical education classes. However, according to sports psychology educator Lois Baron, that can be changed with a simple philosophy: Make it fun.

“It’s a matter of trying to find activities that kids enjoy doing so they can develop a sense of confidence in the activity and personal control over their choices. That’s what will motivate them to be more physically active throughout their lives, which really should be our goal,” she said.

Baron, a full professor in Concordia’s Department of Education, is herself is a sports enthusiast who credits her parents with encouraging her to be physically active when she was young.

“Kids have no problem making activities fun for themselves,” she said. “It’s the teachers, coaches and parents who often turn it into something more competitive.”

Baron, along with co-researcher Peggy Downey, an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Physical Education at McGill, are in the process of analyzing data they collected from a Beaconsfield elementary school on the attitudes some children had toward gymnastics, dance and games.

While they’re still looking at the data, Baron and Downey have found that average children in an average school have varying tastes and abilities, and keeping to a rigid and dated curriculum may effectively prevent some children from becoming active adults. Preliminary results indicate that boys rate their success higher than girls do in games, and girls rate themselves higher than boys in gymnastics and dance.

Research generally supports the finding that girls rate their competence in physical activity as lower than boys, particularly as they get older. However, the results of this study do not appear to support this, demonstrating that there is a need for a variety of content in school-based curricula.

In addition, the findings of Baron’s and Downey’s study indicate that girls attribute their success in games, gymnastics and dance to internal factors, such ability and effort, more so than boys. In other words, the girls in their study exhibited characteristics that should promote their continued participation in physical activity.

“Are children participating in the activities that they really want to be involved in throughout their elementary years? If they are, then maybe they will become more active participants throughout their lives,” Professor Baron said. “They’ll want to do more physical activity. They don’t have to necessarily be elite athletes.”

Physical education changing

Downey said that the Quebec physical education curriculum is becoming more sensitive to not discouraging young children from physical activity.

“I think the trend is toward providing a variety of activities where all students, especially at the elementary school level, can find their niche, not just activities that favour the strongest or the fastest. The new focus is on developing movement competencies that will enable children to handle their bodies well in different environments.”

Factors such as socio-economic status, parent-child and child-coach relationships, and peer groups also influence the child’s decision to remain physically active.

Parents who are more physically active themselves, and have the means, can provide their children with more choice in the activities they undertake.

“Participating in sports and physical activity with children from different backgrounds has been shown to enable lower socio-economic status children to improve academically and rise in status.”

As her next project, Baron, along with Professor Randy Swedburg (Applied Human Sciences) and Melanie Drew, director of Health Services at Concordia, will look at the motivations that promote “active living” — in which they include such activities as walking to work and gardening — throughout the life-span, initially focusing on the baby-boomer generation.
They are presenting a proposal to the Canadian Institute for Health Research, to be submitted early next year.